Previously, James took us on his journey both of coming to faith and the years spent wrestling with his sexuality. At the lowest point, he had tried to use far-right religion as a means to rid himself of undesired feelings towards those of the same sex, but he was eventually able to come to terms with being gay, and found a welcoming church that afforded him a healthier expression of faith. But the story doesn’t end there.
As he began his next chapter at Bible College, the question remained, ‘How do I reconcile being gay with a faith which appears to condemn this?’
James continues to explore this question below.
Since being a part of your church by the coast, and before starting at Bible College, how had you been coming to terms with your sexuality?
I came out to everyone, September 28th 2015, aged eighteen. That was quite hard. I think coming out is just hard, it changes people’s perceptions of you, especially in the short term. For the first six to twelve weeks when people know you’re gay, it’s the only thing they want to talk about. Your friends start introducing you as ‘Here’s my gay friend,’ People start calling you ‘queen’, and it’s like, am I not the same person as before?
So, at first it was quite hard, though it ended up becoming easier with time. But it was also quite weird. The gay scene I didn’t end up liking, because everyone knew everyone; if you mentioned a name you could guarantee to find someone who knew them and who had slept with them. I was content with being gay, but I didn’t enjoy the reputation that came with it, like, ‘You must be promiscuous,’ or, ‘How often do you go to Brighton?’ I guess the general stereotypes I didn’t particularly like.
Was this the stage you were at when you started at Bible College? Or was there more that happened in between?
When I was applying for university I started thinking again about, how do you reconcile faith and sexuality? I started having more serious thoughts and wondering, actually, who’s more homophobic, the Church or the people around me? I’d had a few bad experiences by that point, some guys tried to beat me up for being gay, just random guys in the street. What I ended up finding out was just, from my experience, the church was less homophobic.
In practice, yeah, not in belief. I ended up getting quite annoyed with society generally at that point, because although there was this push to accept people - and there still is this push, I think it’s still going - it felt a bit disingenuous at the time. A lot of people were saying, ‘Yeah, we support these people,’ but actually, just because you post something on Instagram, that doesn’t really mean anything. What I found was a lot of these people just weren’t particularly nice, but they wanted to be on the right side of history. It feels like everyone has an opinion on sexuality, but no one’s doing it for a legitimate reason. Which is probably an error on my part, I shouldn’t be judging people like that.
I started having more serious thoughts and wondering, actually, who’s more homophobic, the Church or the people around me?
I remember actually writing something down on my phone when I was about twenty, I just wrote, ‘From my experience the church is just less homophobic, because they’re willing to be a bit more open about their beliefs.’ Although I was aware that in practice actually I’d received more homophobia outside of the Church, that didn’t mean there was none within the Church, and actually, friends had told me that they had received homophobia from the Church or from the laity. Then I came to Bible College, and I came in thinking, these are going to be a bunch of bigots.
How then, at that time, did you reconcile your sexuality with the teachings of the Church?
I think the same as I do now. I do hold quite a conservative stance compared to many people; from what I see in the Bible, it does seem to be a book which says that sex is between a man and a woman, as is marriage. So I kind of reconciled it through that. I think the difference is, when I first came to Bible College, I was probably a bit more conservative than I am now, in that I believed that the only family you can have is the nuclear family.
Whereas, now I do believe the Bible is quite a conservative book, but equally I think it’s quite pastoral at times. Not all the time obviously, there’s genocide and there’s hatred in the Bible. King David’s not the greatest King in the world. Quite a horrid man actually. But then, the more I looked at Jesus and Paul, although they would hold beliefs, they also held a high standard of loving everyone, that was one of the biggest focuses of both their lives. And that’s where I took my standpoint of, don’t be a dick.
Paul I’ve changed my mind about over the last year or so, I hated Paul last year. Paul did say some strange things, like telling people to go castrate themselves. But at the same time, I have found that Paul can be a wonderful man, a wonderful pastor; he’s incredibly brash, and incredibly abrupt, but he can be incredibly loving.
How did this all translate into your personal understanding of yourself and your sexuality?
I think this is where I‘d say the big distinction lies between a healthy conservative Christianity and an unhealthy one. In my first year at Bible College, there was this view where people wouldn’t necessarily say to repress your sexuality, but they were verging on it. Whereas I think that you do need to find expressions of sexuality regardless of whether or not you’re having sex. So I was looking for healthy ways to express my sexuality.
And how did that look?
Little things such as acknowledging finding people attractive, which I think a number of people struggle with unless you’re acknowledging that the opposite gender is attractive. Actually, I would go a step further: unless you’re a straight male acknowledging that the opposite gender is attractive, it can be frowned upon. I think women often get a rough deal in the sense that they’re often not allowed to express that as much; if they say someone’s attractive they’re often considered promiscuous. So, just acknowledging that I find people attractive.
I think that you do need to find expressions of sexuality regardless of whether or not you’re having sex.
Not only that, I would work through what aspects of them made me find them attractive and ask myself, is there anything I can do to acknowledge that more in my daily life? I think there’s this push, especially in Christian circles, that, if say I were to find you attractive, that would mean that I would have to take ten steps away from you and try to not talk to you. And actually, I think that’s unhealthy. If you can’t talk to people you find attractive then, how are you going to do anything in life, how are you going to function in the workplace? So it was just finding little ways to be me each day.
But you still wouldn’t act on it in the sense that you wouldn’t pursue a relationship beyond something platonic?
No. I had considered it, and it wasn’t out of the question at first. I did wonder whether I could pursue a relationship, more than platonic, but less than sexual. And I think there is that boundary there and some people do experiment with that. But to me it didn’t ever seem satisfying.
Where did you land, and have you found that satisfying?
What I ended up landing on was platonic; finding satisfaction through platonic friendship, which is something we need to push for more in the Church and in secular society. I don’t think we need to put romantic love so heavily at the forefront. I ended up reading some books on how we can find satisfaction through platonic friendship, and I found that quite liberating, moving away from the idea of needing nuclear family for satisfaction to the idea of the family that you gain walking through your life.
It’s great that you’ve found something which is working for you, and as much as it’s been helpful for you to explore how you can find satisfaction outside of a romantic relationship, I think - although you may disagree – that if you were attracted solely to people of the opposite sex, that search probably wouldn’t have seemed necessary. And so, from your view, why do you believe that God would prohibit a romantic relationship for people of the same sex whilst not for those of the opposite sex?
Ultimately, I don’t know. I think that’s a tough question. A lot of Christians try to answer that question or try to reason it, and I have thought about why does God not condone certain relationships, and ultimately I’m not sure. I think my question goes even further, why does God endorse monogamy? From what I’ve seen, humans don’t tend to be very good at monogamy. But again, I just don’t know.
I think that’s a fair answer, it’s better to acknowledge that you don’t know rather than trying to say something you don’t believe! And yet, even if you don’t know why, does it not bother you? And does it not affect your relationship with the God that has imposed this upon you, especially as you don’t necessarily have a clear reason for their restriction?
It has bothered me before. It comes to that point in every LGBT Christian’s life of asking, ‘Why does God impose these things?’ And actually it can be quite distressing, especially when you’ve got people trying to give answers to questions they can’t give answers to. I think what helped me through those various times is: one, reading through Paul’s letters, and understanding this idea of a sacrificial gospel; two, actually having charismatic experiences with God.
I recognize that God has done a lot for me, and so I continue and I do what he asks.
Even though I don’t understand, I feel I have met with God in various ways. And so if he asks one thing of me, I do have a problem with agreeing, but at the same time, I recognize that God has done a lot for me, and so I continue and I do what he asks. At times that’s been harder and at times that’s been easier. I think it’s only an understanding that you can really get within the Christian circle.
When you say, ‘God has done a lot for me’, what kind of things would you say he did that would warrant this sort of loyalty?
Just over a year ago, a complete stranger came up to me and told me three things that have happened in my life that I’ve not told anyone about. For me that was impossible for anyone to know unless it was through God. We went out for a meal, and I asked him about these things, and I said, ‘How did you know them?’ And he said, ‘Well, God told me, because he wants you to know that he loves you.’ It’s just things like that, where actually, that wasn’t something that came into my head, that was something from a person I’ve never had contact with. And I just find those experiences remarkable.
Have you had other experiences like that?
I remember when I was very ill and having a nervous breakdown, we were doing a prophetic circle. Someone prayed over me and told me about my breakdown, and told me about the struggles that I was going through. Things like that. What I’ve noticed is, I’ve met Christians who will say, ‘God spoke to me last night and he gave me a picture of a strawberry and said, “This is you”.’ That might well be God, I don’t know, but I find those experiences harder to grasp on to. But when someone can speak into my life things that I wouldn’t tell others, I find that much more remarkable, and much more unbelievable, and much more thought-provoking.
So when you say, ‘What God’s done for me’, it’s more that you’ve encountered things which you couldn’t explain in another way, which would in turn back up what’s said in the Bible?
Yeah, not only that, but also providing money when I’ve been broke, when I’ve been praying for money; he’s provided at one point £200, at another point £500. I’ve seen healings take place of someone’s leg growing, who had a shorter leg. I find that less remarkable, though for some Christians that would be more remarkable, because that’s the physical thing. But it doesn’t really impact me that much.
So, what’s your perspective going forward? What are you thinking are the next steps you’ll take?
Well, my sexuality has changed in the last few years; I sit somewhere else on the spectrum now. And something that I really want to do as I go forwards is change Christians’ perspectives of sexuality. I think if you ask many Christians, they would be aware that there’s two sexualities: straight, gay; and only one of those is really worth considering. Whereas actually, one of the greatest things that society has done is recognize that there’s a spectrum of sexuality. Sexuality does change, and it’s quite natural, but we can’t enforce it. Conversion therapy is completely immoral, and completely wrong, but actually your sexuality may change through the years. I want to see the Church stop viewing sexuality as two boxes, but actually start viewing it as a spectrum.
The Church has made unbelievable mistakes, and they need to make a rather substantial apology to the LGBT community.
In my life, I’m hoping to go into church ministry, and my desire, my greatest desire, is to harbor an environment welcome to all people of the LGBT community. I think for the Church in general there needs to be a lot of work done. The Church has made unbelievable mistakes, and they need to make a rather substantial apology to the LGBT community, for the way they’ve treated gay people and for the way they’re currently treating gay people; especially for how they’re currently treating transgender people. So I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the Church, and a lot of apologies that need to be made. I’m hoping to be a positive influence in that if I can, saying to people, maybe we should start considering sexuality differently.